Neale Upton's Introduction: Ghost in the Shell

Hi readers, my name is Neale and I’m new to the Upside Down Shark team. I studied film at university, with Craig, focusing heavily on animation and animation production, so I thought for my first little article I’d write about a movie that had a big impact on me years ago when I first saw it, and how it changed the landscape for animated movies and science fiction.

Up until the last few years, it’d be easy to have missed Ghost in the Shell in the nearly 30 years that the franchise has existed. Originally released as a manga by Masamune Shirow in the early 90’s (where the Japanese title translates to ‘Mobile Armored Riot Police’), the serialization garnered attention in the west in 1995, when an anime movie adaptation was released to critical acclaim. Nearly two decades later, Hollywood adapted the story for a Western audience in the 2017 film of the same name, making it a household name.
Well, maybe for about a week.
To say it was a bit of a disappointment wasn’t exactly a surprise, with controversies regarding casting leaving a sour taste in some viewer’s mouths, but script issues made the whole thing feel derivative of the very movies that the original had influenced.

 The Major demonstrating Thermo-optic Camouflage in an iconic scene from Ghost in the Shell (1995). Image via  basementrejects.com

The Major demonstrating Thermo-optic Camouflage in an iconic scene from Ghost in the Shell (1995). Image via basementrejects.com

The 1995 animated movie, Ghost in the Shell, directed by Mamoru Oshii, is probably the one film that encompasses everything I just really like. Not only is it a testament to how hand drawn animation can remain relevant for decades, but it was also the next big landmark science fiction movie since Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner back in 1982. The Wachowski sisters reportedly pitched their intentions for The Matrix by showing producers Ghost in the Shell and saying “we want to do that for real”.
In some respects Ghost in the Shell takes what Blade Runner started and expands on the themes and questions raised, and at the same time setting out its own intentions, and pushing the genre’s boundaries once again.

The story follows Major Motoko Kusanagi, member of a specialised unit dealing with counter-cyberterrorism in a world in which people are exposed to electronics in every facet of their lives. Kusanagi herself possesses an entirely synthetic body, which houses her ‘cyberbrain’. The antagonist of the movie, the Puppet Master, is an artificial intelligence that believes it has achieved sentience and wants its own freedom, bringing into question the validity of its life compared to the rest of humankind.

 Japan’s New Port City may be technology advanced, but it’s still far from a utopia. Image via  All The Anime .

Japan’s New Port City may be technology advanced, but it’s still far from a utopia. Image via All The Anime.

Back in the 1980’s and 90’s, cyberpunk was becoming an increasingly popular subject, which is made especially clear in anime produced at the time – Bubblegum Crisis, Akira, Appleseed; they all share the same dystopian vision of a technological advanced future. The genre allowed for interpretations of an imperfect world, asking questions about how we live with technology. How much of a role should tech have in our lives? Where do we draw the line between an artificial intelligence and actual intelligence? What makes us human?
Ghost in the Shell is a philosophical titan, contemplating a vision of a transhuman future, asking the viewer to just think about whether existence is earned, or gained. The ghost in the title is arguably in reference to what we might call the human element of experience, which some may even call a soul. Does being born entitle you to the rights of a human, or can anything attain that status?

There’s so much I’ve missed here by trying to keep it short, like the haunting vocals running throughout the soundtrack, and the visuals which still remain stunning to this day. Maybe my brain is stuck in the 90’s and I’m still trying to catch up, but to me, Ghost in the Shell remains a seminal film in the science fiction genre, and the fact that it’s still being adapted and explored is proof that it’s almost certainly worth your time if you still haven’t seen it.